DVR's have become very commonplace in today's world, but how do you choose your DVR and be confident that it is the best one for your use? Many people assume their only option is the one that comes from their cable or satellite provider, but even they often have options. But what if you have — or wish to — join the ranks of the "cable cutters" movement? There are options even for you with Over The Air (OTA) DVRs which are now plug-n-play. Regardless of where you will source your DVR, there are some general use questions that should really be examined before making a purchase decision.
—High Definition or Standard Definition?
While this is becoming less of a question as the world moves more and more to HD, if you are planning to record and watch mostly classic TV shows and movies, then you will likely be recording in SD. This drives the question of how much storage space is necessary, since HD recordings are generally about four times larger than an equivalent SD recording. This means you can get four times as many SD recordings than HD in the same storage space.
—Multiple simultaneous recordings?
Does everyone in your family have a different favorite show at 8:00 p.m. on Monday? If so, the number of simultaneous recordings can be a deal-breaker for you. Some DVRs only allow one show to record at a time, although most these days have the ability to record at least two at a time by adding a second tuner. Some go up to four or more, but of course the price goes up with the number of tuners. A key point on this is to be sure you understand how the tuners are used. In most cases, a tuner is in use during playback, live viewing or recording. So if you have a four tuner unit and are watching programs on two TVs, you would only be able to record two more programs at that time.
—Watch & delete or keep forever?
Two distinct use models for DVRs are those who record programs to watch at their convenience and then delete them, or those who record programs to watch over and over again. Obviously, if you plan to keep programs long term, you will need more storage space than someone who deletes after watching.
—Video source; service provider or OTA?
If you are happy with the OTA channel selection available in your area, or have otherwise determined you will not be buying cable or satellite service, your options expand to a number of products currently on the market to provide OTA DVR service. Much more can be said about this, but pay attention to the playback options in this market. Some require a unit per TV, others require a proprietary "remote" companion for a second, third, or more TVs. A newer entrant, the Tablo, is more agnostic in it's playback device options, working with virtually all of the currently available streaming devices such as Roku, Android TV, Fire TV, and Apple TV devices.
On the other hand, if you are going to be using a cable or satellite provider, your options will be more limited to what will work with their service. Depending on your provider and service area, they may still have options such as HD or SD DVRs, and different sizes of storage drives, so it is still valuable to have thought through how you will use the DVR.
—"Recurring" charges? Some devices have recurring charges. Most specifically, OTA devices tend to have additional fees for guide data, while cable and satellite devices may have fees for "advanced technology" or HD service. For OTA, the guide data is not always absolutely required, but certainly enhances the usability factor. This is something to keep in mind as these fees can vary greatly.
So what's the best DVR for your use? It depends. It really depends on the "what and how" of your TV viewing. This guide can help you evaluate various products to help you make the best decision as you choose your DVR.